February 9, 2011
Atsushi Kaneko – Digital Manga Publishing – 2004 – 6 volumes
Wow. Just… wow. This is so different from your everyday manga it could pass itself off as an American indie comic. Really. Even more so than any of the stories in Ax.
One of the most striking things about it (and there are a few) is its visual style. It’s got a very strong, pop-graphic style to it, and the characters and settings are punk through and through. There are thick outlines, cartoony character designs, busy backgrounds with all sorts of strange ads plastered everywhere, and it is printed in pink. This only calls attention to the almost minimal value structure in play. Kaneko uses only black, white, and one midtone, so there’s no shades of gray whatsoever. That midtone helps a lot, because while limiting yourself to high contrast black and white sometimes confuses the eye during action sequences, Kaneko’s art is very easy to read, from the fans screaming for Gabba King to Bambi’s sneering face to the brains splattered all over the wall. There are also lots of fun design flourishes, on everything from fonts and background posters to the clothing that Bambi and others wear.
I was also… impressed by the story. It is extreme. Many begins with Bambi bursting in someplace and yelling “Me Bambi” and a command to do something for her. Many run through a gauntlet of gory and disturbingly abrupt gunfights and end on a strange light note, usually with Bambi complaining that her food isn’t healthy enough or scolding the little boy she’s kidnapped about something silly. Through the whole thing, the little boy doesn’t utter one word. Bambi also doesn’t break a sweat when taking out all the bad guys that are after her head for the millions of dollars offered in reward money. And some of the characters are downright esoteric. One man, after surviving her, decides to live life as a pigeon. Another is a schoolteacher as well as an assassin. The Gabba King himself, I would guess, is some sort of abusive Elvis caricature. There is also a wonderfully profane ‘tude that permeates everything, from dialogue to the way the characters act. And I mean profane in every sense of the word. As pure as Bambi insists that her food be, she apparently goes for long periods without showering. The scene where Gabba King beats women was surprisingly shocking, even still, within the context of a really shocking story. And everybody swears like a sailor.
But with all the gags, by the end of the volume, a plot begins to emerge. And that’s the best part. Bambi has kidnapped her charge for a reason. The Gabba King wants the boy, and also loves beating women. It’s also revealed that Bambi has ties to others, and that there may be an awful lot more to the little boy than meets the eye.
There are only two volumes released in English, and I can see why that’s such a shame after reading this first one. I’m going to try and track down the second volume, just to see if the plot takes over the somewhat disturbing slapstick mood of the earlier stories. Plus, it’s just worth reading and having. It is so utterly different. I’m hoping another company really does license rescue this, as unlikely as that seemed before I set eyes on it.
One last thing. The last page of the volume, advertising DMP’s other series, made me laugh. I think this came out very close to DMP’s launch, and we can see the truly bizarre array of titles they initially offered, all under the same imprint. Bambi, Berserk, some BL novels, some Let’s Draw Manga books, and Worst. That is the best mix of titles EVER.